Stoke defied the fact they were missing five first team players to get back to winning ways -- and into the top 10 of the league -- in Sunday's 1-0 away win at Watford. Having perhaps been expected to let the hosts play in front of them before hitting them on the break, the opening 45 minutes instead saw the Potters absolutely dominate possession and chances created.
The goal that decided the contest was entirely deserved but also maybe a tad fortuitous given the foul in the build-up and Heurelho Gomes' role in deflecting the ball back into his own net. The second half saw Stoke drop deeper and deeper but they ultimately coped with everything Watford threw at them with relatice ease to secure their second away win of the season.
Record signing Giannelli Imbula took the rare opportunity of a first team start with both hands; putting in an impressive performance from a deep midfield role. Having seen very little action this season he came in and firmly staked a claim for more minutes on the pitch giving manager Mark Hughes a welcome selection headache ahead of Burnley's visit on Saturday.
While the side managed to create a number of chances, their final ball was again disappointing and the lone front man was left largely isolated. It was Jon Walters who got the nod to replace Wilfried Bony up top and he struggled to impact the game in the final third leaving the manager none the wiser as to who is best suited to lead the line.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Hughes' attacking team selection raised a few eyebrows but with so many missing through injury and suspension, significant changes were a necessity. Tweaked the side's tactics to good effect and put a lot of faith in the application and discipline of Imbula alongside Charlie Adam; which was a move that paid off handsomely.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Lee Grant, 7 -- Showed good anticipation and decision making for a number of long balls into a packed penalty area; dealing admirably with anything that threatened his latest clean sheet.
DF Glen Johnson, 8 -- An assured performance from the returning right back who showed no rustiness on or off the ball. Was afforded impressive protection from the man in front of him, though.
DF Bruno Martins Indi, 9 -- Stepped over to the right side of the centre back partnership and barely put a foot wrong all afternoon. Misplaced just two passes all afternoon in his latest commanding performance.
DF Marc Muniesa, 7 -- Had one or two moments of positional indiscipline but used the ball well in possession without really making a huge defensive contribution
DF Erik Pieters, 7 -- Found more favour further up the pitch but not nearly as effective when facing his own goal.
MF Mame Diouf, 8 -- A selfless, dynamic showing from a player with the heart of a lion. Put his head in where others wouldn't stick their boots and finished the match with the most tackles of the team (5).
MF Giannelli Imbula, 8 -- Was instrumental in the first half and showed the other side to his game in the second 45 when the team conceded more possession. Assured with the ball at his feet and boasted an impressive 95% passing accuracy; the best of any starting player on the pitch.
MF Charlie Adam, 7 -- Played a couple of suspect passes to his teammates in dangerous areas but successfully chipped in defensively with a number of important touches to intercept or clear the ball. His 29th minute header off the post ultimately resulted in the own goal by Gomes.
MF Marko Arnautovic, 8 -- Used his strength well to bully Watford's back line but many of his through-balls were found wanting due to a lack of movement in front of him. Unselfishly Laid on a great pass for Walters when a shot might have been a better choice.
No.10 Xherdan Shaqiri, 7 -- Enjoyed a more central role and the possession that came with it but struggled to play in his colleagues with only Arnautovic making intelligent runs for the most part. Crowned his personal battle with Roberto Pereyra by beating him with his trademark "Elastico" move in the dying minutes.
FW Jon Walters, 6 -- One paced and ineffective, though, suffered from little support around and beyond him. Should arguably have done much better with the chance Arnautovic put on a plate for him, instead he
FW Peter Crouch, N/R -- Brought in with the intention of both making the ball stick up front and helping out defensively at set pieces.